A Look at Speaker Ryan’s Record on “Fighting” for the Middle Class

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Wisconsin-based The Progressive’s Ruth Coniff analyzes Ryan’s voting record and the effect of his policy on his district

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: 45-year-old Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is officially the new Speaker of the House. As one of the youngest speakers in history, the media has depicted the former vice presidential Republican candidate as a budget wonk, considering he chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

In promotional videos like this one he often speaks of fighting for the middle class’ future by keeping spending down.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Washington has not been telling you the truth. If we don’t reform spending on government health and retirement programs, we have zero hope of getting our spending, and as a result our debt crisis, under control.

DESVARIEUX: Ryan has become the poster boy for fiscal responsibility for conservatives who don’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy but cut spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs. Something critics say Ryan has been pushing since he became a member of Congress in 1998.

RUTH CONNIFF: You know, his proposals, including privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into a voucher program, ending–cutting off unemployment insurance, have hit his own constituents particularly hard because this was a big manufacturing area of Wisconsin, and with the plant closings and the offshoring of manufacturing from that area there have been a lot of people, a lot of his constituents who needed those programs, they certainly needed unemployment insurance, and Paul Ryan has made their lives a lot harder.

DESVARIEUX: Ruth Conniff is the editor-in-chief of the Progressive, based in Madison, Wisconsin. She says Ryan’s voting record on Capitol Hill and budget proposals in the past would do more to harm the middle class than help them.

CONNIFF: When he goes around his district he holds these seminars where he flashes this PowerPoint where talks about how we need to cut corporate taxes, we need to slash social programs, the deficit is our biggest problem, we can’t afford to help who–the people he calls the takers. We need to help the makers, which means tax cuts for corporations and the very rich, at the expense of New Deal programs. And even more than that, Paul Ryan’s an opponent of progressivism with a capital P, which comes out of Wisconsin and is part of the foundation of this magazine. He has said very, very in detail, and an interesting level of historical detail, in a conversation with Glenn Beck that the enemy of America is progressivism. And that this is the crucial political battle.

So he opposes not just the rollback of New Deal programs like Social Security but also the foundation of those kinds of programs that came out of the progressive era in the turn of the last century. Unemployment insurance, workers’ comp, protections for workers in the workplace, the weekend. You know, child labor laws. All of this stuff, as he sees it, is part of the enemy of progress in America.

DESVARIEUX: But with all these policies, Ryan has repeatedly won his districts with not much competition. Last election he won 63 percent of his district’s vote, which is predominantly a working class area.

CONNIFF: And they’ve drawn that district to sort of carefully try to catch as many wealthy white voters as they can. He has been dishonest in his ads in his own district. So he appeared to oppose NAFTA-like trade agreements when in fact he was voting for them in Washington.

DESVARIEUX: And back in Washington the gavel has passed on to Ryan, which has many wondering, what can we expect from Speaker Ryan?

CONNIFF: You know, remember, he’s been in Washington since 1998. He’s had these powerful positions. He’s friends with lobbyists who want to get business done. And their interests are different from the interests of people who just want to throw bombs. So defaulting on the government’s debt, closing down the government, those are not corporate-friendly ideas any more than they are middle class-friendly ideas, and that’s going to be a jam for Paul Ryan. He’s going to be stuck between the far-right constituents and the power structure that he’s actually a part of.

DESVARIEUX: For the Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.

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